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Kin of victims lash out at ‘Murdertainment’

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

PHOENIX – Serial killer trading cards. Knives that scream and ooze fake blood. T-shirts with real bullet holes.

Society is fascinated by murder. We flock to murder-mystery dinner theaters, read comic books about killings, buy beach towels imprinted with chalk body outlines and never give it a second thought.

But to Dan Levey and others, products that glamorize or trivialize murder are painful reminders of the brother who was slain nearly four years ago.

“We find it insensitive,” Levey said. “Just like you wouldn’t glamorize rape or incest or child abuse, we shouldn’t glamorize this. It desensitizes society to the horrific real-life tragedies that we went through. It makes you wish you could, for just a minute, let those people know what it feels like.”

Since 1993, the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children Inc. has taken aim at “murdertainment,” writing objection letters, organizing protests and encouraging boycotts of products that make light of murder.

And while the group has had some successes, murder continues to be a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, video games are becoming more violent, and people now bid online for locks of hair, foot scrapings and artwork from killers.

“The bottom line is that we as human beings have what may be considered a morbid fascination with the dark side,” said Steven Pitt, a local forensic psychiatrist.

“We as human beings realize there is this dark side to us, and at times there is a very fine line that we walk between toeing the line and acting on unacceptable fantasies or impulses.”

People simply are fascinated by bizarre killings, serial murders and multiple shootings in the same way they’re entertained by a horror film, said James Alan Fox, the Lipman Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

“They are so unusual that they might as well be fiction,” Fox said. “In most people’s minds, there really is no difference between a serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer and (fictional movie cannibal) Hannibal Lecter.”

For most people, the fascination is harmless, but the problem comes when society trivializes murder, insults the memory of victims and turns serial killers into heroes that other people want to emulate, Fox said.

“It gives the killer a platform, a pedestal that they don’t deserve,” Fox said. “It’s unfortunate and it’s sad, and as far as the victims are concerned, it adds insult to injury.”

Nancy Ruhe-Munch, executive director of the parents group, said “murdertainment” revictimizes those who have lost loved ones to violence and desensitizes children to murder and violence.

Ruhe-Munch, who teaches a program across the country called “Murder Is Not Entertainment,” has boxes full of offensive items.

There are toe tags, books for children as young as 3, a travel guide to murder scenes across the United States and games about killing your boss and your mother-in-law.

“You would never play rape. You would never play incest. You would never play Clue if Professor Plum sexually assaulted Miss Scarlett in the Billiard Room with a lead pipe.

“You would never play airplane crash,” Ruhe-Munch said. “When it comes to murder, we are very insensitive to what family members go through.”

From 1978 through 1998, 443,610 people were murdered in the United States, according to the group.

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